Over-the-Air Radio Reception Help

How can I improve my reception?

To enjoy KQED programs to the fullest on your tabletop radio, you'll need three things:

  1. A good radio
  2. A good antenna
  3. A good location

For good reception, a radio must have good selectivity (selectivity is a radio's ability to separate weak stations and strong stations on the FM dial) and good sensitivity (the ability to receive weak, distant, stations.)

However, reception and signal quality is far more likely to be affected by the radio's surroundings, rather than the radio itself.

Antennas and Location
These two items are actually MORE important than the kind of radio you're using… and they are related in a big way. You can get the same reception in a bad location (using a great antenna) as you can in a good location (using a bad antenna)!

Tip: FM Radio Waves travel more-or-less in straight lines. They are weakened by objects that get between the transmitter and receiver.

Location Tips:

  1. The closer you are located to a KQED transmitter the better chance you have of receiving a clear signal (include list of locations here?).
  2. The higher up your antenna is located, the better chance you have of receiving a clear signal from KQED. In other words, if your radio has a built-in antenna, it will work better in your attic, than in your basement! Or if you have an outdoor antenna, it will perform best on the roof.
  3. If your house is on a hill, you'll get better reception than if it is in a valley.
  4. If there is a large object between your house and the KQED transmitter (like a mountain, for instance) you will probably receive a poor signal.
  5. If your antenna is outside, it will perform better than if it is inside.

Antenna Tips
You MUST have an antenna to receive any radio reception at all. The least expensive radios ONLY have built-in antennas, with no provision for connecting an external antenna. With better radios, you have a choice. Below are different types of antennas.

Built-in antennas: Most clock/table radios use the power cord as an antenna. Except in strong signal areas (nearby a transmitter) these do not perform very well. If your radio has a built-in antenna, try moving the AC power cord around (and moving it higher) to improve reception.

Wire "dipole" (usually supplied with better radios): This is a flexible wire antenna that comes packed with some radios. Using this antenna will improve reception somewhat… but as with ALL antennas, it's not the perfect solution. It is attached to the back of the radio, then "strung up" somewhere in the room as a "T"… with the two ends extended as far as possible from each other. Try orienting the top of the letter in different positions for best reception. It may give best results when it is vertical.

Telescoping antenna(s)/"rabbit ears": Some "boom boxes" and portable radios have one or two telescoping antenna rods. These perform somewhat better than the wire "dipoles" because you can move the one (or two) rods around for optimal performance.

These antennas can be purchased separately, but don't bother with other indoor antennas that do not have a pair of long rods with them. Circular, ash-tray sized and other types of indoor antennas are meant for UHF television and won't work very will with an FM radio.

Amplified indoor antennas: These consist of dipole or similar antennas, in a case with a small pre-amplifier intended to boost the signal before it gets to your radio. This type of antenna may not be very useful though, because typically your radio already has a very good pre-amplifier built in to its circuitry. And a "dipole" antenna connected to your radio should work just as well as an amplified antenna.

On the other hand, if you can't have an outdoor antenna, and an indoor dipole or pair of "rabbit ears" is too unsightly, then a slick-looking indoor antenna might be the best for you…. However, it may not greatly improve your FM reception.

Outdoor Antennas: A good outdoor antenna will provide the best reception.

In general, you want a directional antenna which receives signals from one direction only. Do not use an omni-directional antenna which receives signals from all directions. An antenna designed for FM-only will be better than a combination FM-TV antenna.

If you already have an outdoor TV antenna, and prefer not to buy a separate one for your radio, try connecting it to your FM receiver. If you get good reception, you can install a signal splitter to connect the same antenna to both the FM radio and the television. A signal splitter is designed to connect one antenna to two or more receivers.

An outdoor antenna should be aimed for best reception. In most cases, best reception will occur with the antenna pointed at our KQED-FM transmitter on Mt. San Bruno. In some cases, best reception will occur with the antenna pointed in a different direction. Experimentation is the key.

Outdoor antennas deteriorate with age. Metals corrode and can break from the wind. An outdoor antenna should be inspected for damage annually.


San Francisco: 88.5FM
In the greater San Francisco Bay Area, tune in to KQED Public Radio at 88.5FM.

Sacramento: 89.3FM
In the greater Sacramento area, tune in to KQEI at 89.3FM.

Santa Rosa: 88.3FM
A translator allows the KQED Radio signal to reach Santa Rosa. In the Santa Rosa area, you can tune in at 88.3FM.

Martinez and Benicia: 88.1FM
A translator allows the KQED Radio signal to reach Martinez and Benicia. In the Martinez and Benicia areas, you can tune in at 88.1FM.

Comcast formerly carried KQED Radio on Channel 960, but they discontinued all FM radio stations on January 15, 2019. Learn more here.

Even More About Radio Reception (TLDR)

FM signals are like television signals. They do not go through hills. However, many different things manage to get the signals over and around hills so that you do not have to have a direct line-of-sight to an FM transmitter in order to receive its signal.

Weather conditions can affect how well the FM signal is propagated to you. If you live in a marginal receiving location, changes in weather can change your reception. The signal can change with time of day and time of year. In the Bay Area, typical weather conditions in September, October, and November bring the worst reception.

Most listeners are not affected by weather changes. When an FM signal gets up to a certain minimum strength, an increase does not cause any perceptible change. As long as the signal stays above this minimum value, the listener is not aware that the strength of the signal is changing.

A very strong, unwanted signal can cause a number of problems to FM reception. The strength of a radio signal is proportional to the inverse square of the distance to the transmitter. For example, the area around Sutro Tower will have much stronger signals from the Sutro Tower stations than from Mt. San Bruno, where the KQED-FM transmitter is located.

FM transmitters are scattered all over the Bay Area. To name just a few, FM transmitters are located on top of apartment houses in San Francisco, on Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, on Mt. Beacon above Sausalito, above downtown San Rafael, near Walnut Creek, as well as on Mts. Sutro and San Bruno.

Anyone who lives near one of these locations may have interference problems. Problems can also come from television transmitters and from non-broadcast transmitters, such as police, taxi, and tow truck dispatch points.

The strong signal overloads the radio receiver. Often, you can hear unwanted signals at several different places on the dial. However, a strong, unwanted signal can cause the wanted signal to be noisy in stereo, but quiet in mono, without causing any other symptoms.

Curing strong signal interference can be very difficult. You must determine that the problem is caused by a strong signal and is not multipath (see below). You may have to install an attenuator between your antenna and your receiver to reduce signal strength. Fixed attenuators for this purpose are available from radio supply stores or online. The attenuator reduces the amount of signal fed to the receiver. Older receivers are more vulnerable to this interference than most new ones. You may have to replace an old receiver with a new one.

The FM radio signal is somewhat like light. It can be reflected by objects such as hillsides, buildings, automobiles, and by people. The FM receiving antenna picks up both a signal directly from the FM transmitter and simultaneously a number of reflected signals. These reflected signals may interfere with the direct signal. This condition is known as multipath reception.

An FM stereo signal is more vulnerable to multipath interference than is a mono signal. If a signal has a lot of hiss and noise in stereo but is quiet in mono, multipath is usually the cause. (Low signal strength or interference can cause similar symptoms.)

Because the wavelengths of different FM stations are not the same, the multipath situation is different for each individual FM station. Thus, one station can be quiet while the next one is noisy. The location of the receiver will also affect the amount of multipath interference. An area such as the San Francisco Financial district has a very strong KQED-FM signal present. However, all the reflections from buildings can make reception difficult.

A better quality antenna will minimize reception of unwanted reflected signals to reduce multipath interference.

Still have questions? Fill out our Transmission Problem Report Form